Amid heightened violence and political turmoil, Afghans are preparing for the country's April 5 presidential and local council elections. Voters will be choosing the successor of President Hamid Karzai, who is barred from seeking a third term by the Afghan constitution.
It will be the third election held since the Taliban's fall in 2001, and the group has pledged to disrupt voting and punish those who participate. In the past three weeks the Taliban has opened fire on a hotel restaurant in Kabul killing nine, executed a Swedish journalist (who was there to cover, among other things, the elections), and kidnapped and shot dead a local council candidate along with nine of his supporters. And on April 2, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the Afghan Interior Ministry, killing six police officers. In response to this spate of bloody attacks, additional security measures are being put into place. According to Reuters, more than "380,000 army, police and international forces will be working to secure the elections."
Despite the unrest, campaigning efforts have remained robust, with candidates holding multiple rallies attracting large crowds across the country; millions of Afghans are tuning in to watch the presidential debates on television. Voter registration has been high, and Afghan experts estimate the election day turnout to be between 60-70 percent. As 29-year-old Abdul Ghafoor Raheemi from Kandahar -- who had been too afraid of the violence to vote in the last election -- told the Associated Press, "I am really willing to use my right to vote this time. ... It seems everyone is willing to vote and participate in forming a new government."
Above, an Afghan man watches the crowd supporting presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah during a campaign rally at a stadium in the northwestern city of Herat on April 1.
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